- Founded in 1990 to highlight a growing problem, the Public
Committee Against Torture in Israel (PACTI - stoptorture.org) "believes
that torture and ill treatment of any kind and under all circumstances
is incompatible with the moral values of democracy and the rule of law.
(It) advocates for all persons - Israelis, Palestinians, labor immigrants
and other foreigners in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories
(OPT) - in order to protect them from torture and ill treatment by the
Israeli interrogation and law enforcement authorities."
- They include the Israeli Police, the General Security
Service (GSS), the Israeli Prison Service (IPS), and the Israeli Defense
Forces (IDF). In June 2009, PACTI published a report titled, "Shackling
As A Form of Torture and Abuse." Its findings are discussed below.
- PACTI reviews the "serious phenomenon" of shackling
Palestinian detainees "in a systematic manner and throughout all stages
of detention and interrogation." Its purpose is to dehumanize and
inflict pain, suffering, punishment, intimidation, and discrimination as
a way of lawlessly extracting information even though experts acknowledge
that torture is ineffective, counterproductive, and, of course, illegal
under all circumstances at all times with no exceptions allowed ever.
- Israel's use of shackling "has snowballed almost
out of control....even when it serves no real" purpose, and it begins
at the time of arrest. Plastic handcuffs are used "that can be tightened
but cannot be released or halted." They inflict pain, especially when
hands are cuffed from behind, the most common way.
- Shackling continues during interrogation, "where
diverse and creative forms of cuffing are intended to apply pain and pressure...."
Then in cells, detainees are painfully shackled to beds for extended periods.
Even when they're transfered for urgent hospital treatment, cuffing stays
in place throughout.
- In his "Torture Ruling," (HCJ 5100/94 Public
Committee Against Torture in Israel v. Prime Minister of Israel), former
President of the Israeli High Court of Justice (HCJ), Aaron Barak (1995
- 2006), addressed cuffing as follows:
- "A reasonable interrogation is an interrogation
without torture, without cruel or inhuman treatment of the interrogee,
and without a humiliating attitude thereto. It is forbidden to use brutal
and inhuman measures during the course of the interrogation....Painful
cuffing is a prohibited action. Moreover: other means exist to prevent
escape from lawful custody or to protect the interrogators which do not
involve causing pain and suffering to the interrogee."
- Interrogators ignored the ruling and keep using procedures
prohibited by the High Court as a way to gratuitously inflict pain, suffering,
and at times permanent injury and disability.
- PACTI cites specific cases and offers a medical opinion
on the pain and neurological damage it causes. In response to its demands,
interrogators began using new type handcuffs with longer chains, supposedly
to limit physical harm. However, they're as harsh as before.
- Cuffing During Arrest and Transfer to Interrogation
- Painful cuffing begins, even for minors, the sick and
women at the moment of arrest to begin breaking detainees' spirit and soften
them up for GSS interrogations. Each month, PACTI gets dozens of complaints,
and over the past year documented hundreds representing "the tip of
the iceberg" about a universally administered procedure. For example:
- Alaa Nasser Dib Salem was arrested on October 2, 2008.
In his affidavit, he said soldiers cuffed his hands behind his back so
tightly that any hand movement tightened his restraint more, causing pain
and producing paresthesia (an abnormal tingling or pricking feeling the
result of pressure on or damage to peripheral nerves).
- Mahmud Faruq Hamed el-Bubali lost feeling in both hands
after 30 minutes and made him feel like "my palms were going to disconnect,
to be cut off." The cuffing turned his hands blue, and he suffered
intense pain, especially in his right hand.
- When Yazan Sawalha complained of pain, he was denigrated,
laughed at, cursed, and told to shut up even though his hands turned bright
blue and red, were very swollen, and he had trouble lifting them.
- Rami Mufid Jum'ah's complaint led to further abuse. In
transit with soldiers, he was kicked and struck with rifle butts on his
- A.G, a minor, told of being tightly handcuffed with his
hands behind his back and blindfolded. When his restraint was temporarily
removed, his left hand was blue and swollen, and his wrist swollen and
red. At the Petah Tikva detention center, a doctor discovered white pus
on both his hands.
- Each time PACTI submitted a complaint to the Central
Command Attorney for Operational Affairs, "no substantive reply"
- During Operation Cast Lead, Amar Fuad Mahmud al-Helu
was arrested, painfully cuffed and held that way for three days. As a result,
his shoulder was sprained and dislocated. When he shouted about the intense
pain, soldiers tightened his restraint further.
- In statements gotten by the Breaking the Silence organization,
soldiers corroborated detainee testimonies. For example, Staff Sergeant
- "....handcuff (detainees) and put a cloth over their
eyes. Just take them away at night....put the handcuffs on them real tight.
It stopped their blood circulation a bit." They were left in a school
"for hours, blindfolded and handcuffed, and they had no idea what
they'd done...It went on through the day" lasting for hours.
- Staff Sergeant B said:
- "some soldiers know what the purpose of the handcuffs
is and some....think (it's) to stop the flow of blood from the wrist and
fingertips....some guys think that you should squeeze the handcuffs as
far as possible so that no blood can flow from one side to the other."
That's different from just restraining them.
- The Medical Aspect
- At PACTI's request, Dr. Bettina Steiner-Birmanns said:
- "Tight handcuffs - such as narrow and rigid plastic
handcuffs with no space between the cuffs and the detainee's hands - press
forcefully on the wrists. The detainee is liable to remain (in restraint)
for protracted periods. In these conditions, the handcuffs may cause injuries
to soft tissue and abrasions, skin wounds, and even fractures. The handcuffs
also press on the nerves in the palms, thereby causing paralyses and a
loss of sensation in (them). These neurological injuries may be transient
but they may also be permanent....From the neurologist's viewpoint....tight
handcuffs can cause transient or irreversible damage...."
- Correspondence with Army Authorities
- All detainees are subjected to the same abuse with slight
variations. PACTI asked authorities to provide regulations, procedures,
or orders regarding the use of plastic (or other type) handcuffs. In response,
Major Zohar Halevy, the IDF Spokesperson's Division Human Rights and Public
Relations head, issued a statement saying:
- "In principle, force is not to be exercised against
another person in order to execute a function or perform a duty unless
the function cannot be executed or the duty performed without the exercising
- Regarding forceful handcuffing, Major Halevy added that
military police orders establish that:
- "the use of force shall be in such measure as is
necessary and logical while adapting given the circumstances. This shall
be reasonably proportional to the desired goal. (Furthermore), the shackling
of detainees outside the detention center shall be effected solely by the
use of handcuffs, in such manner that the accompanying MP is shackled by
the hand to the detainee, or when two detainees are shackled together and
the MP accompanies them.....it must be ensured that the accompaniers have
cutters in order to cut the handcuffs when necessary."
- In response to a further PACTI inquiry, Human Rights
Officer, Captain Gon Erez, said that handcuffing is in accordance with
military police commander Instruction No. 9810 concerning "Shackling
with Handcuffs - Security Detainees." It states that they're used
- --prevent self-injury;
- -- injury to another person or property; and
- -- prevent escape from lawful custody.
- Per the military police commander's instruction, ordering
handcuffing, including the type, is to be made in writing by the authorizing
person, "and this decision shall be examined on an individual basis."
Further, "handcuffing shall be in such a manner as is essential in
order to secure these goals and as an only and last means to do so. Once
the goal is reached, the handcuffing of the security detainee is to be
halted." The facility military police commander and medical officer
must approve maintaining it for over 72 hours, and handcuffs "shall
be removed every three hours for a period of fifteen minutes."
- The provisions of commander Instruction No. 9803, "The
Transfer and Removal of Detainees from a Detention Facility," must
also be followed. It states that:
- "force is not to be exercised against a detainee
for the purpose of the transfer or removal of the detainee from the incarceration
facility unless it is impossible to execute the mission without" it.
It's further established that "the use of force shall be in a degree
that is reasonable and essential for the execution of the task and shall
be adapted to the circumstances....reasonable proportionality is to be
maintained between the desired goal and the extent of the force that is
exercised" that at all times "shall serve as a last resort."
- However, this instruction is vague on details during
transfer and removal of detainees from incarceration facilities, thus granting
soldiers a margin of leeway to exercise their own judgment and let them
be harsher than necessary.
- Nonetheless, the official reply acknowledges no legal
basis for painful shackling, yet the procedure "is actually the case
in the army" with no justification. As a result of 574 documented
abuse cases, PACTI wrote to the West Bank judge advocate general and military
police commander on May 13, 2009 demanding that soldiers henceforth be
prohibited from using plastic handcuffs as the first and only means of
controlling detainees from the time of arrest through their transfer to
interrogation facilities. All painful restraint methods were also asked
to be eliminated, especially shackling detainees' hands behind their back,
and that procedures be established concerning the method and length of
detainees' held in restraint. PACTI learned that plastic handcuffs can
only be tightened, not loosened or removed unless cut off.
- Handcuffing During GSS Interrogations
- During interrogations, detainees are isolated and prevented
from meeting with an attorney, family members, or ICRC representatives.
As a result, they're "subjected entirely to the interrogators' control
at all times during the period of interrogation."
- They're kept painfully handcuffed in various ways, including
"regular" protracted cuffing of hands behind their back as well
as their arms and forearms in positions causing severe pain, suffering,
and at times permanent harm. PACTI calls "high cuffing" the most
- GSS interrogators claim the procedure is to protect detainees'
well being and prevent their escape. However, they're kept in a secured,
closed, carefully guarded facility, making that likelihood nearly impossible.
- Detainees are placed on an unupholstered wood, metal,
or rigid plastic chair of standard office size. Both hands are shackled
behind their back with metal cuffs connected by a short chain to the chair's
seat. Most often legs are also restrained, and the chair always is fixed
to the floor.
- Detainees are held that way throughout interrogation
lasting many hours or days, except for short meal breaks and even shorter
bathroom ones. Protracted sitting alone with no possibility of shifting
positions, standing, or stretching is itself extremely uncomfortable. Being
painfully shackled makes it much worse, and any attempt to slightly adjust
the hands results in further tightening of the cuffs.
- As explained above, paresthesia often results that includes
loss of feeling, weakness, and pain in the back, arms, wrists, shoulders
and neck - the entire upper body. Chest muscles are also strained, breathing
impeded, and long-term neurological damage is common.
- The Scale of Cuffing Detainees with Their Hands Behind
- PACTI affidavits show it's widespread during all interrogations,
usually throughout the procedure. A few testimonies describe the practice:
- A.B, aged 16 and a half, said his hands were cuffed behind
his back and attached to the chair's seat. His testimony shows that even
minors are subjected to the same harsh treatment as adults. At one point
during the process, A.B. broke down and cried.
- Samar Hasan Sus said:
- "When the interrogation began, I was cuffed with
my hands behind the back of the chair I was sitting on. The handcuffs were
attached to the bottom of the seat of the chair and I could not move my
hands. The handcuffs were made of metal." He complained to an attorney
about forearm, leg and back pain. PACTI submitted a complaint on his behalf
to no avail.
- Dr. Ghasan Sharif Muhammed Khaled said he was cuffed
and not allowed to change position. He said he was subjected to intensive
interrogation for eight days, up to 22 hours a day, excluding Saturday
and Sunday. Throughout, he was painfully shackled with only rare breaks
of about 10 minutes. As a result, he experienced severe pain in his tailbone,
back, neck, palms, and knees. He also sustained internal bruising and his
knees swelled. PACTI again complained, was told the case was closed, and
no corroboration was found for Dr. Khaled's complaints.
- Numerous other cases were much the same, and PACTI got
no substantive responses to its complaints. They also learned that the
only time interrogators unfastened the restraints was when detainees said
they wanted to confess. Otherwise, painful shackling continued, causing
permanent damage and humiliation as well.
- "High Handcuffing" in the Interrogation Room
- PACTI describes it as "any type of handcuffing in
which the detainees' hands are above the level of their wrists, including
cuffing of the forearms or arms." It's extremely painful, can cause
physical injury, and if maintained for extended periods very often permanent
- Detainee Jalal Khaled Momammed Sawafta describes it in
- He was cuffed with a large metal bracelet. "They
cuffed my hands in the middle of the forearm (between the wrist and the
elbow). Each of two interrogators pressed on the bracelet of the handcuff
on my arm - they both pressed together. It was terribly painful. Of course,
these handcuffs were in addition to the regular handcuffs that were on
my hands all the time, so I had two pairs of handcuffs fastened behind
my back. (They) pressed on my arms hard. I cried out but it didn't do any
- Sawafta's hands are still numb. He can't move his palms
well, and they still feel cold all the time even on hot days. He still
has marks on his right hand and wrist and "all kinds of bruises on
both hands." Also, his back hurts when sitting for a long time. He's
unable to write or hold a cigarette between his fingers, and his hands
are swollen and red.
- On his behalf, PACTI complained to Attorney General Meni
Mazuz. Even after a follow-up memo, no substantive reply was gotten. Other
detainees described the same treatment. Some referred to "indescribable"
pain, and subsequent medical examination confirmed neurological damage.
- After repeated attempts on behalf of detainees, Attorney
Naomi Granot, Inspector of Interrogee Complaints, closed the issue "on
the grounds that the findings of the mechanism for examining complaints
by interrogees did not warrant legal, disciplinary, or other action against
any of the GSS interrogators."
- From the clear evidence it got, PACTI concluded that
detainee rights were "gravely" violated and that no redress would
be forthcoming. Nonetheless, an appeal to the prime minister was made,
including demands to prohibit painfully shackling, restrict the method
and frequency of less or non-painful restraints, and assure future procedures
only prevent detainees from harming interrogators or escaping. PACTI wants
new rules, guidelines, and criteria in writing that comply with international
and Israeli law.
- Response from the Prime Minister's Office
- In January 2008, the Office of the Military Secretary
to the Prime Minister head, Major Shalom Ginzburg, replied:
- "It has been decided to alleviate the condition
of interrogators by lengthening the chain in such a manner that the interrogee
will be able to place his hands by the side of his body in a more comfortable
manner, without this impairing the security of the interrogators or increasing
the risk that the detainee will escape from custody."
- The "high handcuffing" issue wasn't addressed,
nor was PACTI's demand for clear cuffing procedures. Nothing fundamentally
changed as repeated detainee complaints were received. In response, PACTI
contacted the internal security minister "to ensure immediate compliance
with the decision of the Prime Minister's Office on this matter."
- In May 2008, Col. (Ret.) Yuval Rivlin from the Office
of the Comptroller of the Ministry of Internal Security (Public Complaints
Office) replied stating:
- "our examination with the Israel Police has shown
that interrogees are not handcuffed during their interrogation. The Israel
Prison Service informs us that the interrogation facilities are not under
the responsibility of the IPS."
- In December 2008, PACTI again wrote the prime minister
asking him to immediately prohibit painful cuffing, including "high
handcuffing" and to establish firm procedures to be followed during
- In February 2009, Ayelet Moshe from the Public Affairs
Department in the Prime Minister's Office stonewalled by repeating earlier
responses that produced no substantive changes.
- Painful Handcuffing Continues
- Detainee testimonies reveal it:
- Mu'ataz Suleiman Mohammed Qawasmeh described how his
hands were painfully cuffed behind his back with metal cuffs connected
by a 40 centimeter long chain fixed to the back of the chair. While in
this position, he was intensively interrogated from 10 - 22 hours a day.
As a result, he suffers spinal and shoulder pain.
- For about 12 hours a day, Ahmad Samir Hassan Isma'il
was cuffed the same way for nearly five days. As a result, he has lower
back pain and paresthesia in both palms. Others now experience various
upper body pain in their shoulders, neck, hands, arms, and elbows. They
also suffer from swollen red hands, paresthesia, and leg pain for those
whose legs were shackled.
- Alaa Nasser Dib Salem revealed more - painful hands and
feet shackling to a concrete bed in solitary confinement for two days without
interrogation. After six hours, he experienced paresthesia throughout his
body. He was also denied access to the bathroom and forced to urinate in
his clothes. When he complained, two men in civilian clothes tortured him
by painfully pressing on his cuffs, cursing him, and threatening to torture
his family. Salem was later beaten on all parts of his body with a nightstick
and lost consciousness. When revived, he was shaking.
- PACTI concluded that "The behavior of the interrogators
in these cases and in other similar cases....indicates the use of handcuffing
as a form of torture in order to extract information unlawfully" with
interrogators often told anything to stop the pain.
- Non-Handcuffing of Detainees During Police Interrogations
- After GSS interrogations, detainees are questioned by
police, or at times interrogations are done alternately for different purposes.
GSS wants information to protect state security while police need it for
subsequent prosecutions. During their interrogations, cuffing isn't used,
a clear sign that GSS does it solely to inflict pain.
- PACTI concludes that GSS interrogators use "systematic
handcuffing (for) extraneous motives....far removed from the need to 'protect
the safety of the interrogators' or to 'prevent escape from custody.' "
Painful cuffing is used solely to torture, abuse, and inflict permanent
impairment. "This behavior is inconsistent with the declared objectives
and those set in (international and Israeli) law...."
- Shackling Sick Detainees and Prisoners During Medical
- One case involved a shackled young man who was unconscious
after Israelis lynched him. Police refused to unfasten his handcuffs in
the hospital even though they impeded treatment. Another case involved
a hospitalized woman shackled on her way for major surgery, then again
painfully after completion.
- After being shot, Mohammed Ashkar was hospitalized unconscious
and placed in intensive care with a ventilator attached to his mouth. Yet
his hands were cuffed to the bed, and his legs cuffed together. At all
times, four guards watched him. Ashkar subsequently died from his wounds,
still painfully shackled. PACTI called his case "an appalling example
of inhumanity" and a shocking breach of medical ethics for hospital
staff to permit this.
- The December 1982 UN Declaration on the Principles of
Medical Ethics clearly states that:
- -- "Health personnel, particularly physicians, charged
with the medical care of prisoners and detainees have a duty to provide
them with protection of their physical and mental health and treatment
of disease of the same quality and standard as is afforded to those who
are not imprisoned or detained."
- The Declaration also prohibits actively or passively
participating in "torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatement
or punishment (and) assist(ing) in the interrogation of prisoners or detainees
in a manner that may adversely affect (their) physical or mental health
- In response to PACTI's complaint about Ashkar's treatment,
IPS Attorney Tal Argaman on prisoners' affairs said his shackling properly
complied with "confidential" procedures he wasn't at liberty
to disclose. PACTI nonetheless submitted a request in accordance with the
Freedom of Information Law, 5758-1998, but was denied on grounds of confidentiality.
- At a subsequent meeting (attended by Physicians for Human
Rights representatives) with police, the IPS, Deputy Attorney general (Criminal),
Ministry of Internal Security and Ministry of Health, PACTI learned that
"IPS security prisoners are considered dangerous and are automatically
shackled" while hospitalized, even if on life support. The meeting
- On July 31, 2008, another meeting was held with the same
attendees as earlier. As a result, the IPS published IPS Commission Order
No. 04.15.01 concerning "the shackling of a prisoner in a public place."
For the first time, it distinguished between levels of danger for prisoners
and detainees as follows:
- -- those classified "level A" include all held
for security reasons to be shackled as authorities see fit;
- -- "level B" detainees may not be shackled,
"subject to individual examination;"
- -- for minors, the handicapped, disabled, or sick, shackling
should be avoided, but isn't prohibited if grounds are documented in writing;
- -- during court proceedings, cuffing should be avoided,
"subject to individual examination;"
- -- for hospitalized detainees, authorities should refrain
from shackling unless sufficient grounds are presented; however, this doesn't
apply to "level A" detainees who'll be shackled at all times;
this means that anyone may be so classified and painfully restrained.
- PACTI concluded that the new order didn't alter "the
default practice of shackling." It continues unabated.
- Shackling from the Perspective of International Law
- International law is clear and unequivocal. Torture amounting
to cruel, inhuman, and/or humiliating treatment is prohibited at all times,
under all circumstances, with no exceptions ever allowed, including in
times of war or imminent danger. This prohibition is a rare example of
a legal principle, accepted as customary law that's binding on all countries
worldwide. Neither Israel or any other nation may violate it no matter
what conditions exist.
- In addition, accepted principles for detainees and prisoners
were established in a non-binding July 1, 1957 UN resolution concerning
Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners. They were adopted
in 1955 by the First UN Congress on the Prevention of Crime and Treatment
of Offenders and were approved in 1957.
- They reflect accepted norms and standards concerning
prisoner treatment, including the prohibition of shackling to inflict punishment
under Section 33, but allow it, with restrictions, to prevent escape during
- -- cuffs are removed before detainees appear before a
judicial or administrative authority;
- -- for medical reasons on instruction of a medical staff
- -- on order of the incarceration facility's general manger.
- Even when applied, doing it in a painful manner is prohibited,
and the Israeli High Court of Justice (HCJ) several times affirmed the
standard under the 1988 Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons
under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment that states:
- "All persons under any form of detention or imprisonment
shall be treated in a humane manner and with respect for the inherent dignity
of the human person."
- Yet the HCJ also legitimized coercive interrogations
in three 1996 cases involving plaintiffs Bilbeisi, Hamdan and Mubarak seeking
interim injunctions prohibiting abusive GSS treatment, including painful
shackling, violent shaking, hooding, playing deafeningly loud music, sleep
deprivation, and lengthy detentions. After further deliberation, the HCJ
ruled painful shackling illegal, but allowed the other practices, even
though Section 277 of Israel's 1977 Penal Law prohibits torture and provides
criminal sanctions against its use. It specifically states:
- "A public servant who does one of the following
is liable to imprisonment for three years:
- -- uses or directs the use of force or violence against
a person for the purpose of extorting from him or from anyone in whom he
is interested a confession of an offense or information relating to an
- -- threatens any person, or directs any person to be
threatened, with injury to his person or property or to the person or property
in whom he is interested for the purpose of extorting from him a confession
of an offense or any information relating to an offense."
- In fact, this law applies solely to Jews, so Palestinians
are subjected to systematic torture and abuse, including extended periods
of injurious painful shackling. In addition, the Penal Law has a giant
loophole "necessary defense" provision allowing "psychological
and moderate physical pressure" to obtain evidence in criminal proceedings.
It also permits coercive interrogations against "hostile (threats
or acts of) terrorist activity" and all expressions of Palestinian
- Then in 1999, the HCJ ruled that coercive force may be
used in "ticking time bomb" cases that can be applied to anyone
designated a security threat or terrorist. According to Israeli authorities,
all expressions of Palestinian nationalism, activism and resistance against
lawless oppression is "terrorism," opening the way for Palestinian
detainees to be tortured - defined by international law as war crimes that
impose criminal liability on perpetrators, their authorizing superiors,
and the state itself.
- Israel is a serial violator, so far unaccountable for
its grave breaches, yet potentially liable for its actions as well as individuals
at all security and political levels engaged in state-sponsored policies
that willfully disregard binding international laws.
- Under the well-established principle of "universal
jurisdiction," any nation may investigate and prosecute foreign nationals
for crimes against humanity and war, including torture, cruel and abusive
treatment of detainees. In April 1961, Israel applied it against Adolph
Eichmann, and so has America against figures like Panama's Manuel Noriega
and Liberia's Charles (Chuckie) Taylor. It may only be a matter of time
until the "law of averages" catches up with Israeli war criminals.
For their victims, it can't come a moment too soon.
- Stephen Lendman is a Research Associate of the Centre
for Research on Globalization. He lives in Chicago and can be reached at
- Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and
listen to The Lendman News Hour on RepublicBroadcasting.org Monday - Friday
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